April Short Story: Altered

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during April 2019 via the @AlternativeChat and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 4pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.



This is why airports have chapels.

Outside is chaos and noise, fire blazing thanks to aviation fuel. Only faint smell pervades, behind large oak double doors. Sitting under God’s benevolent gaze, Virgin Mary’s statue, no evil will flourish. Terrorism cannot exist alongside love. Such acts of mindless violence will be explained away as aberrations. The aircraft should have exploded on runway Two-Niner exactly twenty-three minutes ago. She should have died with the bomb. Instead, at last minute, Noomi called the police, begged them to immediately evacuate.

Exactly when explosives that had been carried in her luggage were due to detonate, no-one was even close to the aircraft. Everyone was in buses, being driven away, as bomb disposal teams considered their opening moves: damage to property alone, airport travel disruption complete. Perhaps she should be running away now, escaping her moment created, but by doing so guilt will not shift. Leaving it here, in a Christian God’s forgiving house, seems more sensible. At least for a time she will be at peace. Then, she’ll leave by the badly damaged emergency exit.

This is why they should never have picked a coward.



WPC Griffiths has no idea what she is supposed to do.

She’d seen the woman at the payphone, caught snatch of conversation, watched her run. Only as blast wave hit had it all made sense. She was warning them about the bomb. Her training had kicked in: look for the signs. Unusual, suspicious behaviour. When she’d first spotted this teenager, the first thought was trafficking: maybe she was trying to run away. Something was wrong here: Griffiths immediately compelled to shadow her panicked movements.

It took a while to grasp what she’d heard on the phone, too: Arabic, as her grandfather spoke when Griffiths’ family arrived in the UK. Words fractured, context garbled: she hadn’t been telling someone to get away from her. She’d been urging them to get away from something else. Then, as girl almost ran into the Airport Chapel, the entire Terminal had shuddered. Windows shattered, people literally blown off their feet. Time had stood still, until Griffiths turned, looking out of the remaining, intact windows. Across the runway, a lone plane was burning.

Not just a small, engine fire, but an entire aircraft, savagely consumed in a massive fireball that threw flames into the bright, blue morning sky. A 747 laden with fuel, but abandoned, emergency chutes deployed. Nobody there outside, or in. She had warned them all, get away NOW. Griffiths was afraid: had she allowed a player to slip through justice’s hands… but no, the girl’s there, praying perhaps for intervention. Does it matter her God doesn’t belong here, their religion is seen as the enemy of so many? It is time to find out, hoping she is unarmed.

As she approaches the woman stands, but doesn’t bolt. Instead, her demeanour changes.


Noomi should be running, looking at this female policewoman staring, but not threatening. She is armed, that weapon is not yet drawn: does she know what her part in these events has become?

Her English is minimal at best: trying to work out how to start a conversation, it’s a surprise when policewoman addresses her in Arabic:

“I heard your phone conversation. Did they threaten you to carry the bomb?”

Noomi thinks of her mother, hostage for over a year, and cries.


Griffiths wonders how things might have played out if her colleagues had found this girl: would they have threatened her with guns first? Perhaps she would have run, and they might have opened fire when she did. These consequences do not bear thinking about, so she won’t bother. She was assigned to the Terminal for precisely this reason: spy in plain sight, listening into conversations, looking between the cracks where people’s true personalities and motivations might lie. Griffiths’ worth had finally been highlighted, in the most serious of situations.

It is therefore a surprise when young girl holds out both hands, waiting for handcuffs. She knows there is nowhere else to run; perhaps this is an understanding that by surrendering to someone who grasps her plight, there might be chance to explain why all those lives were saved. The WPC has nothing formally to arrest her on, however: all that was heard was part of a conversation. She takes the girl’s hand, motioning for both to sit on the front pew. Time is of the essence: how much can now be learnt concerning both motives and whereabouts of the bombers?

This initial call to Dispatch will be vital: what she reports, who is asked for, what happens next. Before all that, she needs this girl’s name and address, who sent her here and what or who might be being used under duress to push an obvious innocent to give life as a detonator.

As it transpires, this young girl is surprisingly willing to talk.


Noomi is happy to tell the policewoman everything that is asked for, without fear or concern. Nobody will hurt her as much as those who imprison and torture her mother. It is high time to mete out vengeance. When other officers finally arrive, neither are in uniform: both are women. They don’t handcuff her, are not cruel. The WPC travels in the back of the van with her but it is not to a police station, first of countless surprises Noomi was not expecting for such an open rebellion.

Sitting in a white, anonymous room in what is most definitely not a police station, the first man she meets asks for an explanation why the phone call was made from the airport. He does so in Arabic without threat or menace. Under normal circumstances she should ask for a lawyer. These are not normal circumstances however: Noomi knows it is time to use her intelligence, what is known as leverage. She asks what the WPC has already divulged, politely requesting a chance her mother and sisters can be spared wrath of lawmakers in exchange for information…

The man smiles, first time since entering the room, moves from standing to sitting. She is, albeit briefly, a powerful force: the control it provides is galvanising, briefly brilliant. There is a deal to be brokered, possibilities indeed.

These people understand what she offers.


Aisha Griffiths has an unimpeded view of the police station as convoy comes around corner and into full view. Inside are three men responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths, masterminds of a massive and frightening trail of terror across three continents, now in custody. It has been an incredible three months, all told. One young woman’s strength and determination, growing up in a world of terror and idolatry had turned everything on its head, exposed hypocrisy. Noomi considered herself a coward, not worthy. Nothing was further from the truth.

Without her she’d still be on foot patrol in the airport, considered of minor importance. Instead now, she’s in training to become something far more significant and vital. Today is her last day in London, before being sent to Scotland where preparation for the future commences. Their convoy is heavily guarded, surrounded by outriders. Armed guards stand outside the police station entrance, incongruous against red Victorian brickwork. All of this doesn’t seem nearly enough when placed alongside atrocities this trio of brothers had wrought over a decade.

No-one had assumed a sister would turn against them. Family was intractable, loyalty until the very end. These men might be accomplished soldiers and terrorists but their weaknesses were easily exposed. They had failed to grasp the importance of love and devotion for other means. Griffiths trains sniper rifle’s sight on the area close to the police station’s car park entrance, as vehicles slowly rumble into the courtyard. Her shooting skills had been instrumental in MI5 approaching her: she was wasted in a uniform. There were better use for her abilities.

It will be great to see Noomi again too Aisha thinks, an opportunity to talk and catch up on what had happened since she’d seen the young woman in Whitehall. The deal she negotiated in order to capture her family will never be publicly known or acknowledged, for very good reason. How different things could have been that day, in house of a Christian god, if two women had not placed kindness before hatred. How much has altered, not just for the better. There will be consequences, there always are…

The lead vehicle suddenly explodes into a ball of flame.

Ballroom Blitz

This weekend, for the first time for a while, I willingly wrote some poems.

All around me, almost constantly, is the reminder of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’ that makes the difference. I could try and pretend it isn’t that way but like it or not, this is part of your rite of passage, in whatever new fandom you find yourself working within. Call it a community, commune, movement or any number of other adjectives to describe a bunch if people with a similar interest. Needless to say, you’re in fandom.

Entering the Poetry Fandom in my early 50’s is quite intimidating, but this is not unusual. There are lots of women doing this, I even read an article about some of them. The key to escaping mediocrity’s gravity is to get published or lucky on Social media. Both need a phenomenal amount of work. I’ve only really been at this for a shade under two years. That’s no time at all, and there’s this continuous reminder, day in and day out, that I’m not doing enough.

Fuck me, woman, you only just got started.

I’m ready to work again: there’s a personal project being tinkered with starting this week (once I have a residency proposal sent off to the local art collective) plus the normal run of creative outputs, but let’s be honest, none of this is keeping me in chocolate and new trousers, so it is time to see if the Dial a Rhyme service might have some merit. Honestly, what’s the worse that could happen?

On top of this, there’s a bunch of other things happening, at least one of which is deeply personal. I gotta hope that doesn’t derail everything else, but it’s always a chance. That’s the thing with life, you never know what’s going to happen next. So, do you sit and wait for opportunities to come drop into your lap, or do you get yourself out there, waving your wares to the World, in the vain hope that something might stick?

This new career isn’t going to fashion itself. Down to the business of shameless self-promotion.

My Favourite Things

Last day of February, and starting tomorrow there will be no more poetry until the start of April. The burnout really is real, and it has been a very long time since I threw myself into something that worked as wish fulfilment before anything else. Enter Ternary which is a writing project which is likely to be familiar already to those of you who have been here for a while.

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This used to be The Sayers which began as weekly fiction. Now it’s been amended, extensively edited and is in the course of being completely re-written from scratch. That’s what I’m going to do with my free time in the next few weeks, as well as the other stuff that you’ll have seen in Monday’s blog post. It has a soundtrack Spotify playlist (under construction) and I keep writing bits of dialogue down as stuff occurs to me and in that regard, it’s already a success.

The ultimate irony however is that it begins with a poem.

Progression and development means different things to different people. For me, even if I can’t stand the sight of it right now, poetry’s become part of my psyche. It is also remarkably important in the alternate history I’m writing, that the piece which starts the book pretty much underpins everything that takes place during the first part of what, on reflection, was always going to be a trilogy. How I decide to publish it remains to be seen. This year’s submissions elsewhere will probably determine that path.

For now, there’s the unbridled joy of a new thing to do, and that honestly the last thing I care about now is how other people get to read it when it’s done. All that matters is the telling: we have a beginning, middle and end, with all points in-between covered. That in itself is a glorious state of affairs that’s not taken place for quite some time.

EX/WHI :: Part Twenty

Previous Part :: Next Part


This should be an uncomfortable, strained evening meal, as had been the case every time Ami had discussed operations that had gone south. Except, of course, these were extraordinary circumstances. Both operatives remain alive and extremely well looked after; representatives of their planet, fact that was only now beginning to truly sink in. This wasn’t like anything that had ever taken place before, not even the most extreme of missions.

She’d been held captive once, in North Africa, and those seventy-two hours were some of the most frightening of her existence. Nothing that she’d been taught prepared for how she’d be treated, to escape without having been either raped or beaten was beyond lucky… but it pales in comparison compared to now. There is no benchmark with which any of this will ever be measured.

Dinner’s almost done: explaining Algeria to Chris is having more of an emotional effect than initially expected, enormity of their circumstances finally registering.

‘You okay, Ami?’

‘Yes, I remember how genuinely frightened I was for my life back then, that they could do anything and I’d have no means of either fighting back or defending myself. This situation is different, ever since you had the accident… if they wanted to hurt us or torture us, I honestly don’t think we’d be sitting here with a curry. The psychology is all wrong, you know?’

‘I know what you mean. It would be far more psychologically damning to let me finish our notes and then just make them vanish, but they haven’t. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to compare ideas, this is important for whatever happens next, because you and I know that if we both go to sleep they can just pick us up and dump us somewhere new, or shift this building somewhere else in the simulation…’

Dinner was beyond amazing: they’d spent several hours now with their notes as a backdrop, comparing experiences and discussing their captors at length. Ami knew they weren’t being watched either: if this is truly an experiment, even their observers would need to engage in some kind of rest and recouperation. It was a chance to relax without as much fear, even if both of them were as alert as they’d be mid-mission, probably more so.

Tomorrow however was the unknown that was suddenly very frightening indeed.

‘So Chris, honestly: what happens now?’

‘Your guess is as good as mine, probably better ‘coz you’ve been spoken to by these beings and I’ve just been used as a science experiment -’

‘That’s unfair, you’ve contributed…’

‘No, I was the moron who backed into the thing that any sane person would have steered well clear of because of all the things we’ve encountered thus far, it has been the only item that even looked the least bit threatening. I am very much Ape Man here, and it’s okay. I don’t take that as an insult. I’m the one who’s gotta pick my game up, and I will. You have my word.’

‘Without you here I would have crumbled after we were abducted. I needed someone to keep me focussed. You’ve provided nothing but respect, more than I’ve got from a male colleague in nearly two decades. I know you think you’re the liability, but you’re not and that is worth more to me than anything.’

Chris looks away, unable to meet her gaze: there’s a lot more to this man that just a CIA operative struggling with a desire to keep his job. Ami’s never held a long-term relationship for longer than two years: Chambers’ emotional issues are something there is empathy with than perhaps even he is aware. Professionalism is without question, but the longer their imprisonment goes on, the less it becomes about the procession of automatic, dispassionate responses.

This man has deep seated issues, has done for a long time. There’s no doubt he loves his soon to be ex wife, but couldn’t make it work. He was the bigger problem, the metrics said so. Issues under pressure, prone to panic and occasionally, when situations were very stressful, to explode with rage. He’s not been angry yet, but obsession with perceived ineptitude might send an unsettled brain there if the right stimulus gets presented…

His regard for her remains beyond impeccable, has only strengthened since this all began. With care, a hand is extended; sentiment repeated.

‘I trust you with my life, Chris, and you know this. Deep down, we’re matched for a reason you don’t want and I’m not even thinking about. This is not about breeding partners. This is survival. You and I don’t conform to type, and we won’t procreate for an audience. It isn’t going to happen.’


Previous Part :: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Nineteen

Previous Part :: Next Part



If he says so himself, this is a damn fine job.

Putting down the black marker, Chris stands back to admire the completed, joint work. Massive expanse of wall is packed with two people’s reasoned observation, allowing moment of expectation that now completed, the aliens could yet wipe the whole thing clean and Ami won’t get a chance to read it. Nothing happens however: Chambers takes this as indicator there’s no need to wake up his partner just yet.

Her exhaustion is even more apparent in sleep: hardly moving, yet eyes rapidly flickering. She’s been through at least three cycles of REM sleep already, grateful a couple of moments of clumsiness failed to rouse her. He’s tired, could do with a comfortable place to sit… There is a chance alone to consider feelings, previously left well alone for a reason. Her link with the aliens is obvious, ability to empathise and gain favour… is he jealous of her ability to do so?

When they’d touched him, or moved body about, he could sense presence, yet never personal or focussed. This was very much the unseen hands of gods, controlling destiny and directing fate. Ami possessed something different, more personal and visceral, and there shouldn’t be annoyance they didn’t pick him as their conduit, but right now that’s what’s surfaced. He’s nine and annoyed his sister’s Prom Night preparations are pulling all the attention away from his Soccer tournament final…

This is not a healthy emotion to be experiencing at any point in proceedings, and Chris needs to deal with it.

He sits on the larger of several sofas scattered around the large area that absolutely weren’t here before. They must have appeared whilst the last of his notes were added: he’d like to think it’s because the chairs that initially were supposed to be here, reproduced in simulation, are hard, uncomfortable wooden seats that nobody in their right mind would ever actually manage longer than 15 minutes working on…

There’s the moment of revelation. He’d though the chairs were hard, then considered what would be preferable. Something yielding but not too soft so he can stay awake and still be on guard. The means to relax but not switch off, like the couch in his soon to be ex wife’s apartment. That whole thought process all took place in subconscious, before aliens reached inside a mind unaware of the intrusion and provided the wish. Ami asked out loud for the change of clothes and food. He hadn’t needed to, and was now comfortable.

On reflection, this feeling isn’t jealousy at the responsibility Ami carries, Chris grasps with more than a measure of reassurance. There might be the hint of discomfort he can’t predict what’s going to happen, but if the means exists within to conjure what is required to make his partner’s task easier, that ought to be the way forward. Look after her above everything else: keep mind focused, stress to a minimum, so that if anything important does need to be communicated from however far above them these zookeepers were, it happens in the most efficient way possible.

Ami’s stirring now, light sleep close to wakefulness: Chris knows that if he moves again, she’ll surface, so in his head comes recall of last time in London with Alex West, MI6 liaison who could be a celebrity lookalike for that guy who plays 007 in the movies. He’d been here for training and intelligence briefings but had ended up with a dozen pints of passable lager and fantastic curry at Spitalfields Market as the more enjoyable result.

Taste suddenly ignites on his tongue, magic trick that then unfolds in front of his eyes beyond impressive.

His memory of the restaurant is reproduced down to the finest detail, part of the space transformed with a corner booth, ambience and decoration exactly as remembered. However it is the smell that hits nostrils from food that steams invitingly doing things to both brain and stomach that Chris is powerless to ignore. It’s not just him either: Ami’s awake, sitting up and staring with considerable amazement at her wish made real.

‘Am I still dreaming, is that really-?’

‘Chicken Jalfrezi, Lamb Bhuna, plain and pilau rice, plain and peshwari naan plus a section of sides and poppadoms. I’m a man of my word, Ami, and have just worked out how I can make life better for both of us going forward.’

‘How did you -’

‘I’ll explain while we eat, because I’m not waiting around in case it all vanishes. Shall we…?’


Previous Part :: Next Part

 

The First Time

Everything you will ever need to know about me exists online. No, really, it does. You’d be surprised just how much personal detail has been exposed via the wonders of the World Wide Web since the 1990’s, but to make it easier for you I’ve put together some notable moments in personal history.


writing-as-therapy

The ‘Writing as Therapy’ tag is where a lot of early, formative conclusions have come to be in relation to what I do here. It also has a lot of interesting anecdotes hidden within, including the reason why religion caused grief in my late teens. The quality may be variable, but there’s a LOT of good stuff here.


Write off (3)

Then, there’s my FanFiction. It would be a foolish woman who did not acknowledge the debt this form of hero worship has had on my life. My first fanfic was written, on a typewriter, somewhere in the early 1990’s. Yes, I still have it and no, it doesn’t get shared. Since then, we’ve covered multiple genres and countless TV shows and movies. Over Christmas, I’ll be taking the most recent efforts away for a much-needed edit.

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James Bond and I have a love/hate relationship right now, but the two fanfics I wrote (over 100k words) represent an important step in writing development. You can find Duet and Default here. I will never be anything else but utterly proud of these pieces.

I created two damn good stories.


Poetry

I hated poetry two years ago, with a fair passion, before it became apparent that the main reason for this was because I couldn’t write it. My artist friends keep telling me: if you want to draw, you should practice every day, and eventually you will get somewhere. They’re right, of course. Every day since that revelation, poetry has been written and now, after a LOT of hard work the form is now a thing.

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Search my poetry tags for weekly forms, one offs and daily ruminations, plus specially- created compositions using my own photographs. I’m particularly proud of the 2017 Thinktober visuals, which represented the first time both words and pictures were specifically designed to complement each other.


There’s a lot more on the site, if you’d like to take some time to wander about. Now I’ve explained the lay of the land, the next series of posts will give you some detail about the person behind it…

EX/WHI Update

This is a quick message to those of you wondering if you’ll see EX/WHI again this year. The answer is YES, but I’m still in the process of building a buffer of pages to get us back to self sufficiency. That will be done by the 14th of December, and that’s when you can expect to see the story return.

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There’s also been this rather lovely reboot of the art for the series, which will be applied to all previously-published episodes as part of the general site redesign in progress.

We’ll see you in a couple of weeks.